April 10, 2018

Thomas G. Lee Named Executive Director of Friends of the Children–Los Angeles

New chapter to provide salaried, professional mentors to children of youth who have been in foster care.

LOS ANGELES Friends of the Children, a national nonprofit that pairs children who face multiple systemic obstacles with a salaried, professional mentor for 12+ years, announced today that Thomas G. Lee will be the executive director of the new Friends of the Children–Los Angeles chapter. A Los Angeles native with deep community roots, Lee will be tasked with launching and leading the new chapter, hiring professional mentors, called Friends, and enrolling the children (ages 4 to 6) of L.A. County youth who have been in foster care into the program by this summer.

“We could not be more pleased that Thomas will be joining our nationwide network of innovative leaders,” said Terri Sorensen, president of Friends of the Children. “We are eager to begin working with youth who have been in foster care—who are now parents themselves—through a ‘Two-Gen’ approach. Thomas’s more than 20 years of experience is absolutely essential to our success in L.A.”

Friends of the Children, founded 25 years ago in Portland, Ore., is in 15 locations across the country and in the U.K. and will be expanding to 25 cities by 2025. Evaluations on youth who complete the program show that:

  • 83% graduate from high school, although 60% had parents who did not graduate high school
  • 93% avoid the juvenile justice system, although 50% had parents who were incarcerated
  • 98% avoid early parenting, although 85% were born to a teen parent

Last fall, Friends of the Children announced they would be launching a Los Angeles chapter with early support from Ballmer Group, ALL WAYS UP Foundation, Pritzker Foster Care Initiative, Russell Wilson and Ciara’s Why Not You Foundation, Premier Gives Back Foundation, ZÜM Media, and philanthropists Greg and Michele Goodwin and Byron and Cynthia Grant.

“This opportunity is a culmination of all of my work in the nonprofit and education space, where I can bring all of those skillsets to bear,” said Lee. “Los Angeles is primed for this program and can serve as a deep layer of support that compliments all the other great work happening throughout L.A. County. I look forward to building deeper relationships with child welfare advocates, the K-12 education community, public systems, philanthropists and corporate leaders to collectively amplify our work and broaden our base of support for families impacted by foster care.”

Prior to joining Friends of the Children, Lee led the Alliance for Children’s Rights’ L.A. Opportunity Youth Collaborative, which works with partners to create a launching pad for foster youth to overcome barriers to success. Lee also spent more than a decade building strategic partnerships, advocating for and serving foster and probation youth. As the division director for transition-age foster youth at Hillsides Youth Moving On, his team built a comprehensive support system that included a multi-dimensional housing program, mental health services, a drop-in center and a workforce development program with post-secondary education supports.

An educator at his core, Lee taught high school English and world literature at San Gabriel High School and King Drew Magnet High School in Watts, Calif., for seven years. A husband and father of three, both Lee and his wife Noemi, a therapist, have dedicated their careers to empowering youth who have been in foster care to reach their full potential.

Friends of the Children was recently profiled in The Chronicle of Social Change for the work they are doing in Los Angeles and around the country, and they are being featured in a national public television documentary series called The Visionaries, which will air this spring.